SERMON: Epiphany IV – Walking in Christ
The Lord be with you.
Let’s begin with a review. In approaching Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I have encouraged us to follow observations from a devotional book I read long ago. Its author suggested that Ephesians shows us three postures that the one who trusts Jesus takes in his or her life.
- First, we SIT. That is, we learn to rest in the salvation blessings that Christ has given us because of his work on our behalf and our union with him by grace through faith.
- Second, we WALK. That is, dying to sin, we rise with Christ to live in newness of life.
- Third, we STAND. That is, we resist and oppose the powers that threaten to keep us from resting in Christ and walking in Christ, the powers of sin and evil that promote chaos and destruction in our lives and in the world.
Roughly speaking, the first three chapters of Paul’s letter encourage us to sit, to meditate on the fact that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” Now, beginning in chapter 4, we transition to the second posture. Paul writes, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life [WALK] worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
It’s time to learn to walk.
Let me repeat what I said in my introductory message about walking in Christ:
The life of a believer is a life through which we MOVE. It is an active life, a life that does not sit still. Receiving God’s grace, we practice acts of gratitude. Faith flows forth in faithfulness. Having received God’s love, we show love to others. When we rest in Christ by sitting with him and drawing upon all the blessings of our salvation, we gain energy to get up and go out to give our lives for the life of the world.
In walking, we walk with Jesus. We walk with each other. We walk with our neighbors. We walk in love. We walk in kindness. We walk, as Jesus did, among all kinds of people and seek to bless them in ways that will enrich our lives together with God’s shalom.
Humans are born with the instinct to walk. When babies are just a few weeks old, you can hold them up and they will push their legs down against a hard surface. Then, at about five months, you can balance your baby on your legs and they will bounce up and down. Their little legs are getting stronger, but they still don’t have the balance to stand or move about by themselves. Around the eight-month mark, the baby may pull herself up on furniture and start cruising around while hanging on for support.
From there, it’s a matter of learning to let go, to bend the knees, to squat and sit down, to take steps while holding a hand, and eventually to let go and motor about on their own. Most babies are doing this by around 13 months, though some take awhile longer. And from then on, it’s a whole new world — as the little one begins moving through life as a biped, upright, head erect, following the yellow brick road on life’s journey.
So, the first thing about walking is that we need to LEARN to do it. The instinct is natural, but developing the ability to walk is a process. That’s why Paul gives instruction to the Ephesians here, beginning in chapter four. The Christian’s life is one of growth and progress, of falling down and getting up again, of grabbing on to someone or something for support when we can’t get our balance, of learning how to navigate difficult terrain, of avoiding places where it’s too dangerous to walk. We must learn to walk.
Another thing about walking is that we walk TOGETHER. When Paul talks here about walking as followers of Jesus, he uses words like “humility,” “gentleness,” “patience,” “putting up with one another,” maintaining “unity,” living in “peace.” We’re not contemplating the journey of a lone traveler here. Christians walk together. We are a family. We are a congregation. We are a body of believers. Later in this passage he points to the things we all share: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope, one calling, one God who has brought us all together in Christ.
This is where things get challenging, because we have our differences, don’t we? We come from different places, different backgrounds; we see and do things differently. We may not appreciate this about other people. We may not even like each other. We may have prejudices toward those with different ethnic backgrounds, skin color, different orientations or affiliations. I may have a more conservative mindset, while you are more progressive. Some of us have had experiences which forever changed our view of life, and it’s hard for others to understand that. Is it any wonder that Paul has to encourage us here to be patient, gentle, and forbearing with one another?
Evolutionary scientists tell us that one of the reasons humans developed the ability to walk upright was because it freed their arms up to carry things, which became necessary when our ancestors transitioned from living in trees to moving across the land.
One of my favorite sports stories of all time comes from an incident that took place in a college softball game between Central Washington and Western Oregon in April, 2008. Sara Tucholsky, a senior for Western Oregon, stepped up to the plate with two runners on base and did something she had never done before. She smacked one over the fence. Her first home run ever. Tucholsky was so excited that she missed first base. Turning back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she fell. In tears she crawled back to 1st base.
What could she do? She was unable to walk. The umpire let the coach know that if she could not proceed any further, the other two runners who scored would be counted, but she would only be credited with a single.
Then Mallory Holtman, Central Washington’s first baseman, asked, “Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?” The umpires huddled and ruled that the opposing team could do that within the rules. So Holtman and a teammate picked up the injured Tucholsky and carried her around the bases. They lowered her to touch second, third, and finally home. As both teams and fans brushed back tears, Sara Tucholsky celebrated her first home run, carried in the arms of her opponents.
Even when we find ourselves on opposing sides, we are one in Christ. We walk together, and sometimes we even sacrifice our own benefit to carry each other along the way.
May the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. Amen.
7 thoughts on “SERMON: Epiphany IV — Walking in Christ (Eph 4:1-7)”
Christians disagree on what the “side” of Christ is, as well as other matters that aren’t spelled out by having Christian faith. It is right to criticize the fundamentalist position that there is one clear way to live and conduct oneself as a Christian, and it’s based on one right interpretation of the Bible; but it would be as much a mistake to insist that one has all the answers regarding how to live the Christian life, and how to live in the world as a Christian, based on a non-fundamentalist understanding of Christian faith. As for the church bringing people back to the fold, I don’t see that most of us agree enough on where the fold exactly is, or how it’s defined, to exercise the kind of discipline required to do that — and I’m not sure it would be a good thing if we did. Those with such a viewpoint may sacralize their own position by claiming that it represents the “side” of Christ, when it in fact represents just another human “side”; that has often happened in the Christian past, and is still happening in the Christian present.
Except, the whole narrative that there are “sides” is a lie that the surrounding culture has told us. If we are following Christ it means that any “side” we once identified with becomes less important to us than being on the “side” of Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:20). Saying, “That person is on the other ‘side,’ but I’ll help them anyway” is dangerous because it reinforces the “sides” that the secular culture is trying to force us into.
And, even those who have drifted away from Christ and been swept away by some sin or temptation or false narrative should be treated, not as enemies, but as fallen brothers and sisters who need to be brought back to the fold: “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Gal 6:1).
It’s not easy, and we’re bound to fail, but still must try. The good news is that, though it may not feel like it, Christ carries us all through our inevitable failures. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Absolutely. But not easy to do, particularly at the moment. That’s the goal though and it’s sobering to be reminded of the fact..
“Even when we find ourselves on opposing sides, we are one in Christ. We walk together, and sometimes we even sacrifice our own benefit to carry each other along the way.”